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Bee activists swarm Home Depot and Lowe's

Honeybees at work on their hive.
Pat Greenhouse | The Boston Globe | Getty Images
Honeybees at work on their hive.

Home Depot and Lowe's are under fire for selling pesticides that some believe are partly to blame for killing billions of the nation's honeybees.

Petitions with thousands of signatures are being delivered to the home-improvement retailers this week, demanding they stop selling the pesticides—called neonicotinoids—along with any plants in the stores that have been treated with them. Neonicotinoids are the most widely used class of pesticides in the world.

"There's a growing body of science indicating that the pesticides are a key factor in recent global bee deaths," said Lisa Archer, director of the food and technology program at the environmental group, Friends of the Earth.

Archer said her group, which is leading the petition effort, tested plants for sale at Lowe's and Home Depot and more than half had the pesticides. She said because there were no labels on the plants or pesticides that they could be harmful to bees, consumers were left in the dark about the dangers.

(Read more: How the Pacific could be California's drought fix)

Home Depot was aware of the pesticide issue before the petition effort began, said Ron Jarvis, vice president of merchandising and sustainability at the retailer.

"We've been in contact for months with several environmental groups about neonicotinoids," Jarivs told CNBC by phone. "Now we've been in contact with Friends of the Earth."

Jarvis said Home Depot has been working on an alternative to neonicotinoids for some time and that several of the retailer's suppliers are already using the replacements. He said that anti-pesticide petitioners who have been in the stores this week have been very polite—and that anytime someone has an issue with a Home Depot product, it is taken seriously.

Lowe's has not made any public statements or responded to meeting requests from Friends of the Earth, said Archer. (Calls to the company's corporate offices were not returned in time for this story.)

Another historic bee die-off

Bees and other pollinators are critical in producing—through the pollination of plants—two-thirds of the food crops humans eat every day. It's estimated that between $20 billion and $30 billion in American agriculture production depends on honeybees and other pollinators.

Read more: Pacific storm eases California drought, but state has long way to go)

But the bees are dying by the billions. The common name for what's killing them is Colony Collapse Disorder.

Last year, U.S. beekeepers reported losing 40 to 100 percent of their hives, and they are likely facing another winter of historic bee die-offs, according to the Friends of the Earth.

—By CNBC's Mark Koba. Follow him on Twitter @MarkKobaCNBC.

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